Reps and goals

Student goals

Achieving goals is hard, mostly because we were never taught how to go about it. I am on a quest to learn the art & science of achieving goals and in the process share my learnings here.

Achieving goals, why is it so hard?

During my career as a product manager building products; as a father helping kids with school work; as an aspiring writer and fitness enthusiast; I have realized that factors determining the outcome of these goals, are seemingly common irrespective of whether the goal is personal or professional.

Top 4 reasons for not being able to achieve desired goals are:
1/ Lack of a clear definition of the goal
2/ Lack of a plan
3/ Procrastination
4/ Lack of consistency in execution

Execution trumps planning

While each of the above reason is important and demands a blog post of its own, in this post I shall argue on why consistency of execution trumps everything else. Defining a goal and making a plan to achieve the goal are both short sprints, but consistent execution is like a marathon. Most people show great enthusiasm & energy at the beginning of any project but eventually loose steam as they continue.

What is common between running a marathon, climbing Mount Everest, loosing 20 kgs weight, preparing for an exam, learning a new language etc all have in common? They all look so daunting, that we are afraid to even get started and procrastinate until cows come home.

Key to achieving big goals is to:
1/ Work backwards to trace a path from the end goal to current situation
2/ Define your Objectives & Key Results (milestones)
3/ Identify tasks to achieve the key results
4/ Maniacally execute the tasks
5/ Measure metrics & course correct as required

Steps 1 & 2 above are part of the planning process while 3, 4 & 5 are part of execution. Most people make elaborate plans but loose steam during execution because it’s tiring to show up day after day, rain or sunshine, and repeat the process again and again, leading to unfulfilled goals. However, even with a mediocre plan combined with relentless & maniacal execution, you tend to learn through the process and increase the chances of achieving the goal. Maniacal means obsessively focussed on the goal & tasks without getting distracted with things that don’t matter, while relentless means not giving up when the going gets tough.

(Mediocre plan + Great execution) > (Great plan + Mediocre execution)

But of course, relentless & maniacal execution is not easy. It’s extremely taxing & tiring and most people give up. The key to getting good at relentless & maniacal execution is to ensure the process is broken down into small repeatable steps (or reps) that can be executed on auto-pilot without too much thinking or decision making. These reps when frequently executed, brings progress, consistency & eventually results.

The key is not having to make decisions at every step. If it’s a binary yes / no decision, there’s a 50% chance of not doing it. For example deciding whether:

  • to wake up at 5:30am tomorrow: 50% chance you will not wake up
  • to go to the gym tomorrow: 50% chance you will not go to the gym
  • to eat salad for dinner: 50% chance you will eat unhealthier than salad
  • to eat dinner together with family: 50% chance you will miss eating together
  • to write down tomorrow’s plan tonight: 50% chance there’s no plan
  • to seek feedback from your team: 50% chance you are clueless
  • to read a book or watch TV: 50% chance you will watch TV
  • to revise school work: 50% chance you will postpone it to later

But if you remove the decision making entirely from the process, there’s 0% chance of not doing it. It is scientifically proven that decision making consumes a lot of mental energy leading to decision fatigue or indecision. Hence by removing the decision making element from these steps, will ensure higher chances of sticking to the plan and executing your reps, thereby increasing chances of achieving the goal. For example:

  • Wake up at 5:30am everyday
  • Hit the gym everyday (to avoid exertion, do lighter workouts alternate days, but never miss)
  • Every night, make tomorrow’s plan
  • Every night, read instead of watching TV

So next time when you are chasing a goal, make sure you make a reasonable plan with enough reps that you can maniacally execute.